notebookheader White Man's Burden - The Draft Review

In a sport dominated by African Americans (82% during the 2008-2009 NBA season), white ball players are dealt an unfair hand each time an analyst limits them in comparison to a historical white player.

Comparing white to white only is a flawed method of evaluation.

Mathematically speaking, white players should find themselves compared more often to African American ballers. Old habits are hard to kill, but for the sake of basketball’s evolution this must change.

For example, take a white player like Gordon Hayward and you get the same old boring cookie cutter analysis: “Average athlete, great feel for the game, blah, blah, blah”. Race is the elephant in the room that many claim does not exist, but when I caught up on some 2010 draft info, I discovered the race card continues to be an ugly factor.

whitemanburden White Man's Burden - The Draft Review
From Left to Right: Hayward, Aldrich and Babbitt

Getting back to Hayward, I’ve seen ridiculous comparisons like Luke Jackson, Michael Dunleavy Jr., Troy Murphy and Pat Garrity. The general rule seems to be this: find any white perimeter player and assign the comparison to Hayward. This is a glaring example of how draft history can go beyond lines of nostalgia or entertainment and be utilized in a more purposeful manner - to identify historical players (regardless of race) that best suit the current player rather than drawing straws for players of the same race.

When I Iook at Hayward I see Bobby Simmons, the immensely court savvy, fluid ball handler and all around fundamental forward who won the NBA’s most improved player award in 2005. It’s unfortunate that injuries plagued Simmons’ career, but in his healthiest state there are few players blessed with his all around skill. Coming out of college, the knocks on Simmons versus Hayward are very similar. They both had subpar perimeter skills with average explosive athleticism.

But the comparisons get worse.

Cole Aldrich is labeled a rich man’s Joel Przybilla. This, again, makes no sense. He’s obviously been assigned to the player because of race, not talent. Przybilla was an exceptional shot blocker in college and continues to be in the NBA. Aldrich is just a decent shot blocker. Przybilla has better timing, quickness and athleticism.

The comparison is obviously flawed. Scouts and analysts should not draw the conclusion that “if player A has it and player B has it, it’s one in the same”. There must be some give and take, like in my next comparison.

Take Cole Aldrich versus Bison Dele, the free spirited and enigmatic center who showed glimpses of brilliance in his eight seasons before he was murdered by his brother in 2002. The Aldrich-Dele comparison is a better fit.

When Aldrich goes to the NBA his shot blocking will be less of a force. Dele was also an average shot blocker, but this comparison really sticks because of both players’ mobility, ability to score in the post, and understanding of the game. Even the negatives are almost in sync as both appear mechanical and lack assertiveness with questionable shooting mechanics.

Finally, this leaves us with the classic comparison of Keith Van Horn linked to Luke Babbitt. This has a bit of merit to it, as both players have the ability to stretch the defense with their deft shooting and neither player had a great deal of post moves. But you can’t take it too far when you factor in Van Horn’s athleticism. The comparison struggles in this regard.

Van Horn could easily dribble past most defenders thanks to better foot speed. To further separate himself from Babbitt, Van Horn used his leaping ability and body control to finish around the basket. Babbitt is not as fluent and does not measure up to Van Horn defensively.

So if not Babbit versus Van Horn comparison, who then?

Rodney White is the answer.

Coming out of the 2001 NBA draft, White created mismatches and dominated for Charlotte University. Like Babbitt, White’s ability to shoot from the perimeter and face-up game despite his power forward size made him an intriguing talent. The negatives scream of similarities as poor defense, below average post up game, and tweener label all are shared by both players.

colorblind White Man's Burden - The Draft Review
From Left to Right: Simmons, Dele and White

Analysis has got to get better when it comes to comparisons. It’s about skill, not color. Scouting, whether amateur or professional, must go color blind if it’s going to advance to the proper levels.


0 #1 GERARD BURKE 2011-02-15 07:20
It's hard to argue your basic premise: "white ball players are dealt an unfair hand each time an analyst limits them in comparison to a historical white player."

I also would agree that the typical characterization of Gordon Heyward does not do him justice. He looked pretty dangerous to me during Butler's run at the the national championship. In fact, I guarantee he was probably one of the main guys Duke wanted to keep the ball from at the end of the game because he could shoot from the outside and finish in traffic.

However, I'm not convinced that this admittedly unfair analysis translates into a substantially negative outcome for white players. From what I see of the NBA these days, guys who play get to stay. Period.

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